LAWRENCE — Bill Self won’t say he anticipated Kansas State’s current four-game winning streak, a run which began following the Wildcats’ one-point defeat Jan. 13 at Kansas.
The Jayhawk coach did, however, sense good things on the horizon for Bruce Weber’s squad, then in the midst of a three-defeats-in-four-games stretch.
“To take off, I don’t know how I’d word it,” Self said Saturday, “but I knew they were getting good fast.”
The Wildcats (16-5, 5-3 Big 12) will see just how far they’ve come when they host the No. 5-ranked Jayhawks (17-4, 6-2) at 8 p.m. Monday at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan. Since its 73-72 defeat at Allen Fieldhouse — Barry Brown missed a would-be game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in that contest — K-State has moved into the four-way logjam for second place in the conference.
The most recent Wildcat victory was a 56-51 home outcome Saturday over Georgia, a game Self caught ahead of the Jayhawks’ own 79-68 win against Texas A&M. While three of K-State’s last five victories have seen the team score at least 86 points, the defensive grit shown against the Bulldogs impressed Self.
“Hey, they’ve found ways to win games when the games are in the 50s and they’ve found ways to win games when the games are in the 80s,” Self said. “They can score, and of course Brown and (Dean) Wade have both had great conference seasons.
“They’re a good team. They don’t beat themselves.”
Through eight Big 12 contests, Brown’s 22.8 points per game ranks second in the conference behind only Trae Young’s 32.4, while Wade is third at 20.3 points per game.
The Wildcats’ four-game winning streak has come without junior guard Kamau Stokes, who has been sidelined with a foot injury suffered in a Jan. 6 defeat at Texas Tech. Weber on Saturday said there’s a “two-percent chance” Stokes returns for Monday’s game, and Self said he hopes the standout does indeed suit up.
Stokes was averaging 13.4 points and 4.6 assists before his injury, but Self said it isn’t altogether unusual to see a team perform better for a stretch immediately after it loses one of its best players.
“You’ve seen situations like that,” Self said. “I think there’s examples of that all the time where other guys get opportunities and when they come back now all of a sudden you’re better because (Cartier) Diarra wouldn’t have the opportunities he’s had unless there’s an injury, and now when (Stokes) comes back they’ve got three starters, three guys all good enough to start in our league, all in the backcourt.
“I can’t see how it’ll do anything but help their chances.”
Diarra has averaged 13.2 points and 3.5 assists in the six games since Stokes’ injury.
Wade, meanwhile, has always been a thorn in the Jayhawks’ side, including his 22-point performance on 8-for-14 shooting in the teams’ first meeting this season. The St. John native is averaging 10.3 field-goal attempts this season after putting up only 6.7 shots per game as a sophomore.
“I can’t comment on other teams’ players, but from the outside looking in (the key) is probably consistently being aggressive, which may be because of confidence, I don’t know,” Self said of Wade, who is shooting 57.6 percent from the floor this season. “He shoots it so well and he’s driving it better and can score in tight. His jump hook has gotten better. I think his skillset is pretty impressive.
“I think it’s ridiculous when coaches comment on other players because they don’t have any idea, but from the outside looking in, you’d think his aggressiveness level is much better this year.”
Oddsmakers have pegged KU as a 1½-point favorite, but few are professing to know what to expect when the in-state rivals meet Monday. Self, though, is certain of one thing.
“I would anticipate the same thing that we anticipate every time we go to Manhattan: It’ll be the best environment that we’ll play in this year from a competitive standpoint,” Self said. “We won’t go to a place that will rival the energy that they have for us.
“Even though we’ve played in front of some great home courts, there’s a little venom and hatred in this one.”